“Our goal is to help build the framework and accelerate the creation of his company and to help him find investors,” explains Regis Hamelin, senior technical manager for Euripides, which is also a partner of the COWIN support action. “Ballandras’ technology involves sensors that are capable of sensing pressure, temperature, or the physical properties of a domain in extremely cold or hot situations.”
COWIN includes five partners, acting in supporting roles to help the startups, with Yole Développement acting as the lead facilitator. The group analyzed more than 200 projects from the European Commission and identified “Golden Nuggets,” which they believed they could help accelerate from a technology to a product.
Ballandras’ technology was identified as one of these “Golden Nuggets” and was selected for COWIN support, in part, because “he had the ambition to create his own company based on his own expertise with surface acoustic wave sensors,” notes Hamelin.
Frec|n|sys’ SAW-HOT technology
Frec|n|sys’ SAW-HOT is a planar technology that involves depositing platinum electrodes on top of piezoelectric wafers. One of the goals of the project was to investigate the capabilities of the material used by Frec|n|sys, which is a single crystal comprised of a lattice of atoms combining lanthanum, gallium, and silicon oxide (La3Ga5SiO14). “This material is capable of supporting high temperatures, in excess of 500°C, and can typically reach 1,000°C without rupture,” explains Ballandras.
The material’s symmetry is very similar to quartz. But contrary to quartz, which experiences a change in symmetry when it reaches 573°C, this material’s symmetry doesn’t change. “This means that if you can deposit platinum electrodes on top of the material to excite waves, you will be able to do it at temperatures in excess of 573°C,” says Ballandras. “As part of our project, we were challenged to meet first 650°C, then 900°C. Depositing the electrodes creates the conditions needed for launching waves on the surface of the wafer. These acoustic waves are propagated and guided by the surface, operated at 50MHz to 3GHz.”
The magic? “When exciting this kind of device with electromagnetic waves, it must be equipped with antennas,” Ballandras explains. “By exciting the device with electromagnetic waves, you can charge the antenna at the frequency you’re interrogating the device.” Thanks to the linear properties of piezoelectricity, the electrodes are charged, which creates desirable conditions for launching the wave, which then becomes trapped at the surface of the device. So when the interrogation ends, the device must consume this trapped energy. “The best way to consume this trapped energy is to counter polarize the electrodes and the antenna, which re-emits the electromagnetic wave at the same frequency or resonant frequency of the device,” says Ballandras. “By monitoring the frequency, it’s possible to identify the temperature to which the device was subjected.” Ballandras has a patent pending for technology he developed to provide a connection between the device and antenna.
The concept involves packaging the entire setup—the anchoring and bonding of the antenna to a ceramic package—with sacrificial resin cement, which is treated to ensure the hermeticity of the device. In terms of survival of the sensor, he was able to demonstrate it at 740°C for 40 hours, and at 800°C for at least 4 hours—meaning the Frec|n|sys sensor (size: 1 cm2, with a thickness of 4mm) can be used in extremely harsh environments. The sensor was also tested for cryogenic conditions and performed well.
COWIN support of Frec|n|sys
COWIN is supporting Sylvain Ballandras in the validation of the company’s business plan and in business development with customers’ acquisition. COWIN is acting to accelerate the growth of the company. “We’ve already had some contact with potential investors,” says Hamelin. “We pushed Ballandras and challenged him just like we were investors. The Yole Finance people know exactly what investors are expecting from a young startup, so we worked together to create a corporate presentation to show the value of the company as clearly as possible. Now things are evolving in the right direction…” With COWIN support, Ballandras entered a French national competition for innovative startups, was selected among hundreds of other contestants, and was awarded a prize supporting the launch of the company.
“This prize makes it much easier to develop the company,” says Ballandras. “COWIN helped me improve my business plan, because as a scientist I wasn’t really focusing on how to promote and market Frec|n|sys. I’ve definitely benefited from COWIN’s help.” In Brussels Belgium, COWIN has hosted the investment place, a one-day event which featured 10 companies it is working with- including Frec|n|sys. This was an excellent opportunity for venture capitalists and corporate investors to explore these startups and to know more about COWIN activities.
About COWIN – www.cowin4u.eu
COWIN is a support action of the European Commission, successfully supporting the commercial exploitation of Smart Systems technologies funded by the European Commission. COWIN is supporting also companies and entrepreneurs to accelerate the development of their projects. COWIN will support you to get in contact with investors and industrial partners to consider potential collaborations.